What is a short story?
What is a short story?
Writing can be one of the most beautiful and satisfying forms of creativity and artistic engagement that there is. A good story can capture the heart, stir deeply-held emotions, and inspire the minds of millions.
One of the greatest things about writing? It's flexible nature. There are countless forms of writing, including fiction, non-fiction, articles, poems, and more. One of the most interesting forms of writing is the short story, which combines many of the best forms listed above.
So, what exactly is a short story? What makes it stand out from other forms of writing? And what are some short story writing tips?
What Is A Short Story?
A short story is a fiction piece of writing that is shorter than a novel. While there is no set word count, most common definitions have it pegged at somewhere around 1,000 - 10,000 words. The length is usually short enough that your average reader will complete it in one or two reads.
Since a short story is so small - particularly when compared to the usual narrative structure and arc of a novel - many of the typical areas seen in narrative fiction must be compressed or removed. Normal characterization, background information, and plot points are compressed, if not outright eliminated.
Of course, the format of a short story will vary. However, many choose to focus on one scene, in one setting, between a limited number of characters (usually just one or two). Some authors may jump right into the action of a story, opting to ignore any other background points of characterization. Because it is challenging to get into the motives or psychological background of a character in such a tight timeframe, short-stories will often focus on a current event or plot point, and then a character's reaction to it.
How Have Short Stories Changed Over Time?
Many of us likely remember short stories from Elementary and Middle School. These stories, which were often older and seemed to be pulled straight from dusty history books, would frequently make some overarching moral point and teach us some moral lessons.
However, it is worth noting that this style of writing has changed as writing has continued to evolve. Short stories have moved from being used to teach moral lessons to an art form in and of themselves. As a result, they are no longer so exclusively focused on teaching right or wrong and instead have been used increasingly for fiction writing in and of itself.
Short stories also serve as great companion devices for popular novels. The authors of many works have added short stories to fill in the gaps that occurred between two books within a series or used it to write a prequel or sequel to a popular adventure.
What Are Good Writing Tips for Short Stories?
As noted above, short story writing is very different than regular writing, requiring that authors who are used to writing long forms of fiction to completely rethink the manner in which they plan and execute stories. For many writers, this can be a significant adjustment.
As such, here are some short story writing tips:
Prewriting still matters - maybe even more so than with regular writing. Most writers will engage in some sort of writing in order to plan their stories, determine characterization, and write out key events. With a short story, some writers may completely ignore this step and skip straight to the writing. However, this is a bad idea. A story's length should have nothing to do with the amount of planning and plotting you do before you finally write the story. Since you are constrained when it comes to word length, you pay particular attention to plot outlines, as this will help ensure you use the limited amount of words you have to their maximum potential.
What do you want to say? This question is arguably the most critical part of the writing and what you must answer. There are other ways to phrase this question: What emotion are you trying to invoke? What's your hook? You must have a reason for writing this story, and the rest of the plot and characters will likely flow. Since you don't have any spare words to waste, everything you write should orient itself around the answer to this question.
Get to the action, now: You don't have much time to write, so get to the good part, quickly. Say what you want to say as fast as possible.
Feel the pain: As previously discussed, short stories contain many of the elements of other writing types. As such, you have to get to the emotional core of your story. This often means you have to get to the conflict as quickly as possible, bringing your characters into a crisis or challenge at a pace usually not seen in novellas or novels. Make sure that your characters immediately experience some sort of emotional challenge that results in conflict, growth, and a long-term conclusion.
Writing a short story is difficult, but it merely requires a change in perspective and tactics. Many writers find more gratification in writing short stories because they are quicker and force a different style of writing, and you may find this to be the case for you as well.
There's only one way to find out if short stories are your thing: Start writing!
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